Steeple Views

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A steeple was added to the Universalist Church in Wakefield twenty years after the church was built. When the church was built in 1839 it was in the style of a Greek temple, with a plain pitched roof. The steeple, consisting of a tower, belfry and spire was added when the church was moved, enlarged and renovated in 1859.

Dr. Solon O. Richardson, an active church member and a prominent member of the community, donated a bell for the belfry at the time the steeple was put on the church. Dr. Richardson was well known for his business which sold a proprietary medicine called “Sherry Wine Bitters”. This had been developed by Dr. Richardson’s father in 1808. During Dr. Richardson’s time in charge of the endeavor, he modernized production, packaging, shipping and advertising and built a financially successful business. In his Genealogical History of the Town of Reading, Lilley Eaton reported that Richardson, “had been a close observer of the evils attending the acquisition of extreme wealth, and was convinced that unhappiness was the too frequent associate thereof.” His donation of the bell was only one of many generous contributions to the community. The bell is still in the belfry of the church to this day.

Another donation to the new steeple was a clock donated by Cyrus Wakefield. Mr. Wakefield was equally as generous to the Town of Wakefield as was Dr. Richardson. The new steeple was topped off with the weathervane which graced it until the spire was removed in 2008.

During its lifetime, the spire was subject to multiple lightning strikes. Church records show a lightning strike in 1917. In the late 1990's the spire was struck by lightning two years in a row. One night in July of 1997 a Wakefield firefighter watching a storm saw lightning strike the church. The Fire Department rushed over to the church where the people using the building were still trying to figure out what had caused an enormous booming noise. Amazingly, all that happened was that some wood blew off the steeple. One year later, in the middle of a July afternoon, lightning struck the steeple again, blowing bits of siding and wood all over Main Street. For the third time, the steeple was fortunate not to catch on fire.

Although three lightning strikes failed to set the steeple on fire, sparks from the extensive Rink Fire of July 1900 did set it on fire. It was reported that the weathervane “fell on the lawn when the top of the steeple burned off.” Fire struck again in 1939. That time a fire was started at the church by vandals. Although the church suffered extensive damage, this time the steeple was not damaged. The pictures accompanying this article are part of a set that was taken after the church was repaired after the 1939 fire.

By the late 20th Century, the steeple had developed a decided tilt. It was discovered that the underlying support system was damaged and could not be repaired without taking down the whole structure. Lacking the funds for the full repair, the congregation arranged to have the spire removed in 2008. At the present time, the church is raising funds to finish the work needed. Whether the spire will be replaced, the tower repaired and capped or another decision will depend on how much money is available.

Event Date: 
Thursday, February 28, 2013 (All day)